Smoking Weed for Weight Loss: Does it Work?
What to know before toking up.
You’ve probably heard that ongoing punchline about how stoners always have the munchies. But is it actually true? Maybe.
Research shows that smoking marijuana does affect the mechanisms that trigger hunger in our brain: receptors in our brain trigger the release of hormones that make us feel famished, causing us to gobble up everything in sight.
But even though there’s evidence to support the Cheetos-munching stoner stereotype, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely true. Other studies have shown that smoking pot doesn’t lead to weight gain.
In fact, people who regularly smoke get high off weed are less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who don’t, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study included more than 30,000 participants. All put on weight during the three year study, but those who smoked weed gained the fewest pounds. This was determined by comparing Body Mass Index for participants in the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions study.
Researchers tied to that study theorize that cannabis may create cellular changes that impact weight gain.
And this isn’t the only study that indicates stoners may weigh less than people who don’t smoke. A 2011 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that even if weed consumption increases appetite, “people using cannabis are less likely to be obese than people who do not use cannabis.” Other studies indicate that many cannabis users have trimmer waistlines than non-users, as well as lower cholesterol levels. What’s more, these results have proven to be true regardless of sample size or factors like age and gender.
So why else might this be the case? Researchers speculate it’s because of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes people to be “high.” To test the link between THC and weight loss, researchers at the University of Calgary examined obese mice and mice at a regular weight, both of which were given THC daily. The researchers found that while THC did not have any effect on the size of the mice who were already at a regular weight, it did cause the obese mice to lose weight. The researchers hypothesized that this was because THC caused changes in the gut microbiome that helped regulate weight loss and digestion.
Other studies in Poland, Italy, Hungary, Canada and the UK have replicated these findings, leading some researchers to conclude that there is “a correlation between cannabis use and reduction in the BMI,” said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Washington-based physician and cannabis researcher. “This association holds even after controlling for other variables,” such as age, gender, or why a person is smoking marijuana to begin with (so for instance, a cancer patient who uses marijuana as a method of pain relief).
That said, there’s also some evidence indicating that marijuana’s effects on weight fluctuation are more complicated than Aggarwal would suggest. Didier Jutras-Aswad, a professor of neuroscience at University of Montreal, has studied how cannabis affects the functions of neurobiological circuits controlling appetite.
“It is known … that cannabis causes temporary increase in appetite,” which can indeed lead to weight gain, he said. Yet he conceded that “as to whether it actually causes weight gain in the long term, the available data is limited.”
It’s important to note that cannabis isn’t a prescription for weight loss: If you don’t exercise and have unhealthy eating habits, then smoking weed probably won’t help you have a lower BMI. Plus, you also want to consider that smoking weed is tied to breathing problems, psychosis, and mania-like symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. In fact, research suggests that smoking marijuana can lead to chronic bronchitis even injure the cell linings on your lungs, according to the American Lung Association.
Bottom line: there’s no evidence suggesting weed will help with your physique goals. The best way to lose weight is by following a diet plan that works for you.
Contrary to popular belief, smoking pot doesn't lead to weight gain — according to a few studies. In fact, weed might even help you maintain your weight.
Cannabis and weight loss: What to know
There is some evidence that cannabis use may have a link to lower body weight. However, scientific studies have yet to provide an explanation for why this link exists.
People have long associated cannabis with an ability to stimulate appetite. People who smoke or ingest cannabis report increased feelings hungry, also known as the “munchies.” It may seem counterintuitive that a substance known to increase hunger in people could help a person lose weight.
This article looks at the relationship between cannabis use and weight loss and what the available research says about the topic.
Share on Pinterest Some studies suggest that people who use cannabis have lower obesity rates than those who do not, though there is not a clear explanation for this link.
A 2011 review concluded that people who do not use cannabis have higher obesity rates than those who use at least 3 days a week. The report included two surveys with a total of 50,736 respondents.
The prevalence of cannabis users with obesity was 16.1%, compared to non-users, where 22% of the participants had obesity.
An earlier study came to similar conclusions. The 2010 study results suggest that young adult cannabis users are less likely to have obesity or overweight than non-users.
More recent studies also show a similar link. One meta-analysis from 2018 suggests that cannabis users have a reduced body mass index (BMI) and less obesity. The analysis also reveals that cannabis use increased caloric intake.
However, cannabis is not a suitable treatment for obesity. It is important to note that the research on cannabis and weight loss points to a link between cannabis use and lower body weight. Studies have yet to provide an explanation for why this link exists.
Cannabis may have a link to lower BMI and rates of obesity because it:
- may lower alcohol consumption
- increases activity levels in some people
- might affect metabolism
- may help with sleep issues
According to a 2014 article in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, smoking or ingesting cannabis can increase a person’s appetite by stimulating cannabinoid (CB1) receptors in the brain. These receptors release a hormone that increases food intake.
Cannabinoid receptors are naturally present in humans, and cannabinoids, which are compounds in the cannabis plant and include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), affect humans by attaching to these receptors.
Research in animals also suggests that cannabis may trigger the release of ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone.
The short-term side effects of smoking cannabis include:
- changes in mood
- altered senses
- trouble problem-solving and thinking
- memory issues
- altered sense of time
The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that hallucinations, psychosis, and delusions are rare but might occur when a person uses exceptionally high doses of cannabis.
Smoking cannabis may have some notable long-term risks. For instance, the American Lung Association explain that the smoke contains many harmful, cancer-causing agents, such as those in tobacco smoke.
People who smoke cannabis also tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than the typical cigarette smoker. Each of these extended inhalations exposes the lungs to more tar. Smoking cannabis can cause unpleasant symptoms, including:
- chronic cough
- excess phlegm production
- acute bronchitis
- air bubbles in the lungs
- air pockets between the lungs and chest wall
Using cannabis can also affect the immune system and increase a person’s risk of lower respiratory tract infections.
Some cannabis users also develop a cannabis use disorder where they build up a cannabis dependence. This can lead to some mild withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 30% of people who smoke cannabis may have cannabis use disorder. People who start smoking cannabis before the age of 18 are more likely to develop this disorder. However, the level of the disorder varies among users.
In younger people, cannabis use can also affect brain development, cause a rapid heart rate, problems with development, and lead to nausea and vomiting.
People with existing mental health issues may experience adverse effects when using cannabis.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a compound in cannabis that produces a high. It may trigger hunger in some people.
However, some research shows that CBD counteracts some of THC’s effects and may help dampen the appetite-stimulating effects of cannabis.
There are no direct studies that show a definitive link between CBD and weight loss. But there is some evidence that points to a relationship between CBD and appetite suppression.
A 2018 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences suggests that specific cannabinoid receptor antagonists may help control appetite and obesity. While CBD does not directly block these receptors, it may encourage other molecules to do so.
Other research shows a link between overactive CB receptors, obesity, and metabolic disorders. Since CBD likely contributes to blocking CB1 receptors, it may also help reduce obesity.
While the research on CBD and obesity is interesting, there are limited human studies at this stage.
Some studies even show that CBD may increase appetite. However, this is likely due to the levels of THC in the products used.
Scientists need to carry out more research to understand the role of CBD in weight loss.
Is CBD legal? Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal federally but still illegal under some state laws. Cannabis-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are illegal federally but legal under some state laws. Check local legislation, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved nonprescription CBD products, which may be inaccurately labeled.
There is some evidence that cannabis use may have a link to lower body weight. However, research has yet to provide an explanation for why this link exists.